The defensive tackle free agency market saw some movement yesterday. First, the New England Patriots plugged Danny Shelton off it by adding him to a one-year contract. Shortly after the former first-round draft pick was re-signed by his former team, another highly selected interior defender hit the open market: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to release six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy in a cost-cutting move.
McCoy spent all nine years of his career so far in Tampa, and will immediately become a highly sought-after free agency option given his résumé and experience. One team that immediately became linked to him? That would be the aforementioned Patriots, despite bringing Shelton back into the fold earlier that day. A story in the Tampa Bay Times is the reason for the speculation surrounding the world champions.
In it, Buccaneers beat writer Rick Stroud wrote the following:
McCoy has already made well over $100-million. At this point in his career, he figured if he’s going to sacrifice salary, it will be to win a championship with a perennial playoff contender like the New England Patriots, who showed interest in signing the six-time Pro Bowler and reuniting him with former Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett.
How this ‘interest’ from the Patriots really looked like is speculation at this point, but one has to wonder whether or not the team would actually be willing to invest in a player like McCoy. Neither quality nor need would be a deal-breaker: while New England is pretty much set at the top of its defensive tackle depth chart with Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel and Adam Butler as the current top-three, adding a player of McCoy’s caliber would tremendously upgrade the entire unit.
However, the cost associated with such a move would likely be an issue. Yes, McCoy might ‘sacrifice salary,’ as Stroud put it, but this sacrifice would have to be a major one for him to fit under New England’s current salary cap: according to the Boston Sports Journal’s Miguel Benzan, the Patriots are only $3.4 million under the cap even without taking into account the recently reported two-year contract extensions for wide receiver Julian Edelman and special teamer Brandon King.
The problem from the team’s perspective is that other clubs also categorized as ‘contenders’ are more financially flexible than New England. Take the Indianapolis Colts, who are almost $60 million under the cap (via OverTheCap.com) and are expected to be among the better teams in the AFC this season. Or the Cleveland Browns, who may not be a proven contender, but have plenty of talent and cap space.
New England, on the other hand, would likely have to free up considerable space to compete with those teams for McCoy’s services. Could it happen? Certainly, considering the Patriots’ knack for signing veteran players below their perceived market value — luring them in with the outlook of playing for the most successful and consistent team of the salary cap era, and under the league’s best head coach — or structuring contracts to lessen the one-year impact of a deal.
The club’s current financial position makes it unlikely in McCoy’s case, however. ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss also sees it this way (slightly adapted from Twitter-speak):
The Patriots aren’t in position to be the highest bidder, so a lot would have to happen for that to fall into place. Would think that is unlikely.
Sure, the Patriots are the one team in the NFL to consistently pull surprises out of their hat. But considering all the circumstances and the market he is about to create, one should not expect the Patriots to competitively be in the running for McCoy this offseason. Now that the words have been written, of course, they will totally sign him to an infuriatingly cheap deal and help him win his first Super Bowl...